TEWKSBURY, Mass. (AP) - When you walk through the front door of the Kelley family’s home in Tewksbury, you’re greeted with an adorable “Tewksbury Honey” sign, and a table of neatly organized jars of honey, candles, lotion and more.
The family officially became beekeepers in the fall of 2015. What started out as 12 hives has grown to nearly 50. The family keeps between six and 12 hives in their own backyard, but the other hives are spread throughout town. Some are at the Tewksbury Library, at multiple locations on the Tewksbury Hospital campus and even a couple stationed in Andover.
Julie Kelley runs the business with her husband, Mike Kelley, and their two children, 15-year-old Sean and 12-year-old Kathryn.
“They’re kind of all over town,” said Julie Kelley.
“Once we expanded, then there was an awful lot of honey, so we started doing farmers’ markets. This year we had four farmers’ markets a week that we were doing.”
Julie Kelley said as a kid, her husband used to work on Hart Farm out of Chelmsford with his family. Between her husband’s experience working with bees and hearing the news about the environment, the Kelleys decided to become beekeepers themselves.
This has not only become a fun family experience, but a way to give back to their community. They recently donated 200 jars of honey to the Tewksbury Food Pantry and give “bee talks” at public libraries, nursing homes, senior centers, Girl Scout troops and more.
The family harvests the honey twice a year: on the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
The Fourth of July harvest is lighter in appearance and has a more subtle honey taste. The Labor Day harvest is darker and has what Kelley described as a stronger, more traditional honey taste. There is also an orange blossom honey available. The replacement bees they received were pollinating orange groves in Florida before coming up to Tewksbury, giving the honey a hint of citrus flavor.
Kelley said beekeeping is hard work, but lots of fun. She said people are usually freaked out by bees, but it’s normally wasps or hornets that will sting you, and not honey bees.
“When they’re not happy, they’ll ping you, like bonk your suit,” Kelley said. “So, they’ll warn you. They’ll fly into you and bounce off because they don’t want to sting you because they’ll die.”
In mid-summer, Kelley said there can be anywhere between 60,000 to 80,000 bees in just one hive. In winter there are less. In the summer, she said the bees live for an average of six weeks. But bees born in September can survive the whole winter, mainly because they’re not flying and are safe in their hives.
Sean said his favorite part of the whole process going to the farmers markets and talking to people. Kathryn loves to do presentations about the bees.
“The worst part probably is that everything gets sticky,” Kelley said. “I think we probably pulled 3,000 pounds of honey this year and everything gets sticky.”
Even the stainless steel tanks they use to store their honey is locally made by Maxant Industries. The Ayer-based company specializes in beekeeping equipment and supplies.
Locals aren’t the only ones who are enjoying the family’s raw honey. Tewksbury Honey was also named a finalist in the Good Food Awards honey category for its spring harvest honey. Tewksbury Honey is one of 25 finalists chosen for the blind taste test.
Kelley will be headed to January’s gala event in San Francisco, where the winners will be announced. According to the Good Foods Award website, the contest acknowledges “tasty, authentic and responsibly produced” foods.
Information from: The (Lowell, Mass.) Sun, https://www.lowellsun.com
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